Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: the E-Type

I'm intrigued by the notion of that Ford GT40 which was shown at the recent Detroit Motor Show. It's new in every way and so meets all the most lunatic safety and emission requirements. It's modern-day fast too, and yet it looks exactly like the old GT40.

What a fantastic idea; to combine the style of the '60s with the ease and convenience, and power, of life in the twenty-first century.

Jaguar's stylists will, I'm sure, be dispirited to hear this as they slave away over the new F-Type. It'll probably be a lovely car, but imagine how good it would be if it had a supercharged V8 engine, anti-lock brakes and styling which wasn't simply reminiscent of, but identical to, the old E-Type.

I know what a head-turner the E-Type is because last summer I did 20,000 miles round Europe in a Series 1 4.2 Roadster.

I went so far across Germany that I bumped into Poland and then all the way back to Brittany. I went to the South East corner of Spain and then right across the middle to the North Western tip. I did Amsterdam to the heel of Italy in a day. So believe me, I know that car inside out.

Of course, you're now picturing it, aren't you? You are visualising the lustrous navy paintwork and the brilliant chrome. You can see it glinting on the sea front in St Tropez and blasting past the spaghetti western backdrop of central Spain. Might I dare to suggest you're a little bit envious?

Rightly so, but realistically, behind the tip-top aesthetics, an old car like this is going to be a let-down if you're used to something modern like a Daewoo Leganza. Or a Ford Sierra.

Mine had been mildly tweaked by Eagle E Types of Sussex so that it had a better cooling system, better brakes and modern tyres but that didn't stop everything heading off to hell one fine evening on the German autobahn.

People started honking their horns as they blasted past but this, I figured, was just an acknowledgment that my car was better than their slate grey Teutonic missiles. So I waved cheerily to them, and I was still waving when the Jag's rear tyre exploded.

It turned out that it was a tubeless Pirelli, which had been fitted with an inner tube because the wire wheels leak. That's fine if you coat the tube with talcum powder but I'm a child of the modern age. If I'm going to break out the lubricant, I can think of better things to smear it on than my wheels. Same goes for the white powder.

"Behind the tip-top aesthetics, an old car like this is going to be a let-down if you're used to something modern"

As luck would have it, however, I was just outside Koblenz which is where Pirelli have a factory. So an hour later I was on my way. Rather more slowly than before. Even though I was fully dusted down, I never really trusted the tyres again and kept my speed down to... well, I don't know actually because the speedo was broken.

And so it was that on one fine day, just outside Biarritz, I was cruising along at 60 or 80, or maybe it was 40, when I became aware of a strange noise. Obviously, being used to modern cars, I did nothing, and I continued to do nothing up to the moment when I noted the temperature needle was bent like an arthritic finger round the top of the dial. Shit. And just to make matters worse, the oil pressure gauge was reading the sort of score that former presenters of Top Gear get on The Weakest Link. One.

Even I, with the mechanical sympathy and understanding of a Visigoth, knew this meant something was up so I coasted into one of those rural Renault garages off the autoroute and went in search of A Man.

He didn't actually have a beret and Gitanes but he should have done. He had that demeanour as he sauntered over to see the Rosbif's broken car. But when he saw what it was, the top of his head came off in delight. Certainly, he developed a hitherto unseen ability to speak perfect English.

I was taken to his workshop to see his own cars: a MK II a MK 10 and an XK120. And by the time we went outside again his mate, who happened to be passing and who also happened to be Chairman of the French Historic Jaguar Drivers' Club had stopped by in his XK150.

Did I feel lucky? Yes. Did I understand what was wrong with my car? Nope. But they fixed it and charged me nought for the privilege.

To be honest, this was the extent of breakdowns. And that's not so bad in 20,000 miles.

What is bad are the things that used to be  considered normal; the refusal for the front end to go where you'd like it to go. The steering, which seemed to be set in concrete. The hood which chopped off your fingers or ripped the seats. Or both, but never neither.

Then there was the stereo system. I'd installed a CD player without realising the old slot was right next to the heater, which was permanently on - handy when you're stuck in a Madrid traffic jam in August - but the savage heat hammering away at my bald patch was nothing compared with the searing agony of touching a CD fresh from that slot. It would have caused grave injury to my finger-tips had they not been severed by the roof.

Think though. These are simple problems which would be easy to address if they started again with the E-Type. Or the Mustang. Or the Ferrari Daytona. Keep the style the same, but replace everything else. It'd be like buying Sgt Pepper on mini disc. It'd be great.

If you want to see the programme which features the Jaguar, it's called Meet the Neighbours and it will be on the television.

 

Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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